Searching For Meaning
Searching For Meaning
Dear Tacit,

In a previous article, you talked about finding happiness through a meaningful life.  How can I grow the amount of meaningfulness that exists in my life?  There are lots of things I do because I must, but they don’t all give me meaning.

Signed Searching for Meaning

Dear Searching for Meaning,

There is a terrific article about this exact topic, written by Andrea Bonoir (PHD), in the most recent edition of Psychology Today (Feb 2023).  I will share my thoughts as well as try to capture the essence of what she suggests.

You are absolutely correct when you talk about how the everyday responsibilities, stressors and worries of regular life can overshadow the meaningful feeling that we want to experience, in order to feel satisfied and fulfilled with the path that we are on.  Dr Bonoir offers 5 essential questions that can act as a compass for the choices that we make with any of the time we have that does not get dedicated to our basic survival needs.  These questions can lay the foundation for self-reflection and self-awareness.  They allow a person to turn inward and find an intrinsic compass that will steer them towards a state of happiness and peaceful contentment with themselves.  These questions cannot be answered once in a lifetime.  They must be revisited regularly.  As we grow and experience new things, gain more wisdom about ourselves and the world around us, and as we move in and out of the different responsibilities and stressors that we must also juggle, these questions can keep making the most out of the time and energy we are expending.

  1. When are you in “flow”? This state of “flow” is a concept created by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the 1970’s.  It is used to describe the feeling a person gets when they are so fully engaged and immersed in an activity that they feel relaxed and challenged at the same time. A person can be absorbed in what they are doing, but not stressed.  They are typically quite positively focused and often lose track of time during these activities.  What kinds of hobbies, or work-related tasks, or people do you hang out with that give you this feeling of enjoyment and accomplishment?
  2. Whose faces do you see when you think about love? For many people, relationships and a sense of connection to others (and this includes animals) play a role in the purpose and meaning life gives us. It might be strangers you do things for as a part of your job, or family and friends that you feel the closest love towards, or the beloved pet that has become your best friend, who remind you of the love that is in your heart. And this love is closely tied to the meaning of why you are here on this Earth.  You need to be living in harmony with an outlet for this love, to feel meaningful.
  3. What are you most willing to put effort into? When you are working hard and enjoying it (regardless of how exhausted you are afterward or how much time it consumes), what kinds of tasks are you doing? When we put our passion and our drive into the activities that give us the most pleasure, it barely feels like work/effort at all. And this helps us slide into that state of “flow” even easier.  These patterns will change over time (and cannot last long if we are stressed and overworked/underappreciated).  But there will be root similarities in the kinds of task patterns in your life that give you a sense of fulfillment and meaning, if you look back over the years.
  4. If you were to write your own obituary, what would it say? Many therapists use this exercise as a way to help a person envision who they would want/hope to be, by the end of their life.  What legacy will they leave behind?  What would they be most proud of accomplishing?  And what regrets might they have?  Using this forward-hindsight concept (my term LOL), Benoir says we should consider what we want to leave behind, socially, emotionally and tangibly.  And then work towards achieving those things.
  5. If you had a completely free day (with no responsibilities or commitments), and you were feeling completely rested and recharged, what would you choose to do?  Taking into consideration your actual talents and interest, your personality, and your values and character, try to envision what a perfect day would include.  It might involve people or animals that hold that special place in your heart.  Or it might be a decadently free day of everyone you know, and be all about you and the activities of your choice.  Neither is a poor choice, but most of us don’t even consider the possibilities.

Finding a sense of meaningfulness is a day-to-day, intentional process.  We must know ourselves first.  And then we must make decisions about what fills our days, selecting options that help grow and nurture this sense of purpose and inner driven satisfaction.  It is very possible to feel a great sense of meaning, even under the most stressful of times.  Or when we only have 15 minutes to make the choices we want to make (as opposed to the things we have to do).  We cannot wait and hope this feeling will develop when things are relaxed and calm.  We must choose to embrace it every chance we get.

Take care!

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